UN Misconceptions

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WEEKLY NEWS SPECIAL ISSUE of: 27-10-2001   - Liberian timber sanctions

Global Witness says certain United Nations' reports on the situation within Liberia must be treated with caution.
Please find below its Press Release.

Paolo (anb-bia brussels)

PRESS RELEASE           25th October 2001

UN Misconceptions over Liberian timber sanctions threaten regional security

The United Nations Security Council will debate the sanctions regime on Liberia on Friday 26th October 2001, including the controversy on whether or not to impose sanctions on the country's timber trade. This latter issue has been clouded by two UN-commissioned reports, according to a briefing issued by Global Witness today.

The recent report of UN Secretary-General concerning the humanitarian impact of imposing sanctions on Liberia's timber exports is seriously flawed by inaccuracies which overstate timber related jobs by 100%, and related dependents by many times that. In addition, the October 2001 report of the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia, whilst confirming the continued links between the timber industry and arms trafficking, has made two recommendations related to the timber industry. Neither of these recommendations addresses the timber/arms links, and one will promote a logging frenzy.

This latter recommendation reads: The United Nations should impose a ban on all round log exports from Liberia from July 2002 and strongly encourage local operators to diversify into wood processing before that date.

This recommendation will encourage a logging frenzy in the upcoming dry season as operators try to beat the export ban, a repeat of the 1991/2 logging frenzy in Cambodia as loggers sought to avoid UN Resolution 792. The recommendation is bizarre in that it does nothing to cut timber/arms links, it fails to address the issue of timber-funded militias or to prevent the haemorrhaging of timber revenue from the state. All the recommendation does, is to suggest a different and ill-thought out industry strategy, which falls outside the mandate of the UN Panel of Experts.

"The UN Security Council has to consider that if timber export sanctions are not imposed on Liberia, the logging companies involved in arms trafficking and state revenue loss will continue to contribute to regional insecurity. The humanitarian impact of this, and the destruction of Liberia's forests, will far outweigh the humanitarian impacts of short-term job losses. The report of the UN Panel of Experts confirms that the logging industry remains a major problem for regional insecurity, but does nothing to seriously address the problem." said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. "We are calling on the UN Security Council to impose a complete and immediate embargo on Liberian timber exports".

Global Witness, PO Box 6042, London N19 5WP. Tel: +44 20 7272 6731; Fax: +44 20 7272 9425; mail at globalwitness.org <mailto:mail at globalwitness.org>; www.globalwitness.org


INTRODUCTION The United Nations Security Council is currently reviewing the sanctions regime on Liberia, in pursuance of Resolution 1343 (2001) and, in particular, whether to extend the sanctions regime to include exports of timber. The as yet unreleased report of the UN Panel of Experts confirms, as did the report of the Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone, that the Liberian logging industry continues to be linked to the arms trade.

Given that timber industry and resultant revenue is essential to the Taylor regime, that it continues to be linked to the arms trade and to the maintenance of armed militias, that timber revenues do not benefit the Liberian population as a whole and that the damage to the country's forests is irreparable, the argument for sanctions is strong. However, the recommendations of the UN Expert panel on Liberia relating to timber, if adopted, will have a severely detrimental effect, whilst failing to address the key issues the Panel was established to address.

Furthermore, the Report of the Secretary-General in pursuance of paragraph 13(a) of resolution 1343 (2001) concerning Liberia, contains numerous inaccuracies relating to the potential humanitarian impact of timber sanctions, in addition to other general misconceptions. This briefing addresses these two issues.

The Report of the Panel of Experts appointed in pursuance of Resolution 1343 (2001)

The United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia has made two recommendations regarding Liberia's timber industry: firstly, that the Liberian government and the IMF revue timber revenues and, secondly:

- The United Nations should impose a ban on all round log exports from Liberia from July 2002 and strongly encourage local operators to diversify into wood processing before that date.

This latter recommendation is contrary to the raison d'etre of the sanctions regime and is almost unbelievably inappropriate. The UN Expert Panel was, amongst its tasks, mandated:

...to further investigate possible links between the exploitation of natural resources and other forms of economic activity in Liberia, and the fuelling of conflict in Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries, in particular those areas highlighted by the report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1306 (2000);.

The Panel of Experts recommendation does nothing to prevent 'the fuelling of conflict in Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries'. It does not address the issues of regional security, the links between the timber trade and the arms trade, which the UN Expert Panel confirm still exist, or the use of armed militias by logging companies. What it does is to recommend a shift in an industry practice, without any expert study or requirements to achieve certain standards, in the context of a report and sanctions regime designed to end regional instability.

The recommendation will, if adopted, have severe ramifications.

* It will result in a logging frenzy similar to that caused by the log export ban demanded by UN Resolution 792 across the Thai/Cambodian border in 1991/2, with long-term irreparable impacts on Liberia's forests. (In Cambodia, loggers rushed to export logs, before 792 came into effect, resulting in greater forest destruction in one year than in the entire previous decade put together. Subsequently, to exploit the loophole in 792, logs were rough sawn to render them as legitimate exports which, using primitive processing techniques, resulted in significant timber wastage).

* By delaying the imposition of a log export ban until July 2002, the recommendation clears the way for this mass exploitation to take place during the dry (cutting) season, which begins in November.

* The recommendation does not address the key issues. The timber companies involved in arms trading will be able to continue as before, but will simply have to increase their investment in Liberia to adhere to the recommendation. Vast revenues (US$100 million in 2000) will continue to be available to the industry and the regime, for off-budget expenditures.

* The two logging companies best placed to develop, or already in possession of in-country processing facilities, and thereby able to conform to the UN recommendation are OTC and BIN. Both of these companies are amongst the foremost named by the Panel of Experts for their close links to the arms trade.

The Report of the UN Secretary-General in pursuance of paragraph 13(a) of resolution 1343 (2001) concerning Liberia

This report states "a ban on Liberian timber exports would probably cause the loss of up to 10,000 relatively well-paid jobs. With an average of nine dependents for each employed person and a probably higher than average number of dependents per employed person in this more affluent economic sector, a figure of 90,000 to 95,000 people losing their primary means of support is expected." Whilst the loss of timber related jobs would damage a small section of the population, the Secretary-General's report contains numerous inaccuracies and misconceptions, and ignores the more serious humanitarian impacts of the continuation of the logging industry. Liberia's timber industry at present is employing far below the prewar capacity, which we believe is the basis for the employment figures given above. The Secretary-General's dependency figure is the worst inflated as it completely contradicts the fact that the overwhelming majority of OTC's workforce especially its militia, cooks, maids, janitors, etc are mostly ex-combatants and young adults and teenagers with little or no family responsibility. The OTC is the largest employer in the logging industry and these groups make up the majority of their [Liberian] workforce.

Under prewar conditions, the logging industry would employ approximately 9,000 to 10,000 people, with an estimated 8,000 to 8,500 of these jobs including drivers, chain saw operators, middle level managers etc., going to Liberians. However, due to several factors including the introduction of Malaysian laborers and the logging companies' preference for Ivorians and other nationals, the number of Liberians actually employed is far less. This has been documented by various Liberian newspapers and confirmed by a cross section of the Liberian citizenry. In various meetings with President Taylor, ordinary citizens have raised concerns about the employment preferences enjoyed by other nationals at the disadvantage of well-qualified and experienced Liberians. However, when questioned on this subject Charles Taylor chose to defend the companies saying "Liberians are unable to operate the modern equipment been used now in the industry" a further confirmation of the fact that Liberians are being denied skilled jobs in the logging industry.

According to an independent investigation conducted by a knowledgeable Liberian, the industry employs an estimated 6,150 people with Liberians making up about 68.82% of the total; approximately 4,233 people, less than half the figure quoted in the Secretary-General's report. A large part of this information derived directly from the personnel departments of various logging companies, including OTC. In an interview with Global Witness a retired Liberian forester, said that although "all logging companies in Liberia are supposed to be employing at least one professional forester, by this I don't mean tree measurer, I mean someone who has at least a first degree in forestry or have attended the Mano River Forestry Institute. But right now, I don't think this rule is being followed... at the moment, I have my doubts that that is happening and that worries me...".

Global Witness' follow-up investigation also focused on job security, employment practices, salary structures, households' dependency on income etc at OTC. This investigation found that the OTC employs approximately 1,733 Liberians in its entire operations. However, more than 75% of the employees are laid off during the peak of the rainy season from late June through late September every year. For these three months, no benefits or salaries are paid and there is no guarantee that an employee will automatically return to his/her previous job when active operations begin in early October. Furthermore, approximately 95% of the Liberian employees have not signed any legal contract with the company's management and no employment letters were served to them when they were hired. There is absolutely no job security for the majority of Liberians presently working at the OTC; people get hired and fired as they come.

Over 886 (51.1%) of OTC's Liberian employees earn between U$75 - U$85 per month, while 510 (29.4%) earn between U$50 - U$75; thus, in total, an estimated 82% of the Liberian workers are paid less than U$90 per month. These people work at least 10 hours daily - seven days a week, under poor and hazardous conditions. Liberians' attempts to challenge these conditions are undermined by the availability of unemployed workers from the Ivory Coast who are willing to accept whatever salaries logging companies in Liberia offer them. The Ivorians accept these conditions and low salaries because at home they would otherwise be without jobs because of the commercial exhaustion of Cote d'Ivoire's forests; a fate that awaits Liberians too if the UNSC fails to take action now.

For the three years that Charles Taylor has been in power, his government has placed his personal security and extravagant lifestyle above the welfare of the Liberian people. In 2000 the timber industry generated over US$106m in undeclared revenue, compared to the government's official declaration of US$6.6 million.

Global Witness has recommended that the international community steps up its humanitarian efforts in Liberia while pressure is exerted on the government to force it to abandon its destabilizing activities. International and local NGOs have done a tremendous job helping the people of Liberia - what they need is support.

For example, in June 2001 elders and residents of Nizwein (Rivercess County), the town that hosts OTC's largest operation centre (Km 85) outside Buchanan, met with Taylor and asked him to prevail on the OTC management to provide electricity for their clinic to enable them to establish vaccine storage facilities. He [Taylor] immediately instructed Joseph Wong and John Teng, both top executives of the OTC who were in attendance, to address the community's needs. No action was ever taken, even though the OTC camp is less than a mile from the clinic and could have easily linked the clinic to its 24hr power supply.

It was only in early October 2001 that MERLIN (an international NGO) provided solar system for the electrification of the clinic, which was constructed by another NGO Medicin du Monde in 1998. To date MDM continues to provide essential drugs and other supplies for the clinic - the government has not provided any significant support to this clinic.

Surprisingly, the Secretary-General's report also speaks very highly of the OTC hospital in Buchanan. This hospital was not established as an outreach program or a low cost medical facility and it is not serving as one. The majority of the residents of Buchanan cannot afford the high cost of treatment at the hospital - they still attend the Liberian government hospital even though it has virtually collapsed due to neglect by the government. This collapse is exacerbated by the fact that many of the nursing staff at the government hospital now work at the OTC clinic which, unlike their previous employer, does actually pay its staff.

The OTC hospital, which was initially started as a clinic, only came to prominence when the cross border conflicts between RUF/ Liberian army on one side and the Guinean army/ LURD rebels on the other hand in the border regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea intensified in 2000. By then it had become a de facto military hospital, following the closure of the JFK hospital in Monrovia, because wounded RUF fighters being treated at the JFK had caught the attention of the international media.

It must be stressed that instead of addressing the concerns of the UNSC, the Liberian government has elected to launch a sustained smear campaign against the UN, exiled opposition leaders and NGOs, including Global Witness and Amnesty International. This not only raises concerns about the security of humanitarian workers and UN personnel in Liberia, but also the future of Liberia's own democracy. The UNSC must not allow the people of Liberia to be used as human shields by Taylor against the imposition of a ban on timber. Sub-regional peace and security is far more important and crucial to the peoples of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Global Witness, PO Box 6042, London N19 5WP. Tel: +44 20 7272 6731; Fax: +44 20 7272 9425; mail at globalwitness.org <mailto:mail at globalwitness.org>; www.globalwitness.org

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